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Kristen Peterson

Grandson of Picasso spreads the art in Las Vegas

1 August 2007

Debra Acquaviva loves Picasso.

She attends exhibits, buys catalogs, follows his shows.

So when her husband, Gary, was trying to persuade her to go on a trip to Las Vegas, the clincher was, well, Picasso - the ceramics exhibit on display at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art.

And just as the millionth customer at a grocery store might get a prize, so too did Acquaviva.

The ceramicist and her husband from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., were at the ticket counter at 10 a.m. Friday giddy to see the show when they were told that there was a special event at 11 a.m. Oh wait, would they want to participate?

Yes, of course they would.

And there they were. Squeezing into the gallery with media, other visitors and gallery officials.

There isn't a whole lot of space in the first corridor of the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, and even less when you add nearly 30 chairs and a gilded podium.

But at 11 a.m., standing and sitting almost stadium style between "Seated Woman" and an assortment of ceramic plates, was a dense audience awaiting the guest du jour: Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, grandson of Pablo and major initiator and donor to Museo Picasso Malaga.

With his family by his side, he stood quietly smiling, a little bashful even, as praises for his "general contribution to the cultural landscape of our growing city" were delivered.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman described it as "a wonderful day for Las Vegas to be honored with the presence of a great family." He then handed him a mayoral proclamation declaring July 27, 2007, Bernard Ruiz-Picasso Day.

Representatives of Sen. John Ensign and Gov. Jim Gibbons followed with certificates.

There was kind applause and a few polite words from the grandson, who along with PaceWildenstein's Andrea and Marc Glimcher brought "In the Master's Hands, Picasso's Ceramics" to the Bellagio. (PaperBall, a subsidiary for PaceWildenstein, owns the Bellagio gallery).

Although a little over the top, the presentation wasn't so outrageous given that Las Vegas is one of few international cities with no Picasso in a museum. In fact, it's known more for the elbow through the Picasso.

Ruiz-Picasso, known mostly for last year's "Picasso in Istanbul," which was the first major solo exhibit of a Western artist in Turkey, and the art foundation, Fundacion Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte (FABA), was not fazed : "I see culture in Las Vegas. It's a huge culture through entertainment, but also as a concept of all that's done here."

Spreading the art has become a lifestyle: Ruiz-Picasso is credited with bringing Picasso's work to the artist's hometown (along with his mother and Picasso's daughter-in-law, Christine Ruiz-Picasso).

Because of Picasso's vow to never return to Spain while former dictator Francisco Franco was alive, the Museo Picasso Malaga could not have happened prior to the artist's death in 1973 or Franco's two years later.

Ruiz-Picasso was a teenager when Picasso died. Shortly after, his father died: "I didn't know what to do. I just knew that Picasso was a great artist."

Only 16, he studied art and set out to "transmit the work of Picasso."

"People say Picasso, Picasso, Picasso, but they don't know," Ruiz-Picasso says. "It's just a brand."

Not for Acquaviva, a cultural tourist who didn't expect to round out her Picasso interest in Las Vegas.

"It made the trip," she says.

And her husband? Was his day as fortunate?

"It hasn't been on the blackjack table. It's all worth it now."